"The guys from Illinois State were asking if it's always like this," said sophomore Jacob Priday. The weather boded well as the Tigers' cold bats heated up and banged out 19 hits to defeat the visiting Illinois State Redbirds 18-5.
"We've been struggling a little bit," said John McKee, who finished 2-for-4 with 4 RBI and a 3-run home run. "But we have a lot of confidence in our hitters, and we know we're going to put some runs up once we hit like we should."
Stephan Holst took the mound for the Tigers. After missing a week of action, he pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up 7 hits and 5 runs while striking out 4 and walking 2.
"I thought he did well," said head coach Tim Jamieson. "(H)e threw strikes, didn't beat himself and gave us a chance to do well."
Holst began the game in peak form, striking out two batters while sending the side down in order in the top half of the first.
Missouri struck in the bottom of the first as Trevor Helms was hit by a pitch, Zane Taylor singled and Jacob Priday bunted his way on to load the bases with no one out. Senior Derek Chambers then grounded out to second, scoring Helms scored to put the Tigers up 1-0.
With only one out, McKee was hit by a pitch to again load the bases for Hunter Mense, But both Mense and freshman David Cales failed to drive in a run, stranding three Missouri baserunners.
ISU got the run back in the top of the second when left fielder Matt Bolt singled and was driven home two outs later on a single to left by Jesse Griswold.
Mizzou retook the lead a half-inning later on a single by Priday, scoring Holmes. However, the Tigers again left the bases loaded and only managed the lone run.
"Anytime you have opportunities and you don't take advantage of them, you can feel the bench start to tighten up a little bit," Jamieson said, "but they stayed relaxed and did a good job."
Holst held the Redbirds scoreless in the top half of the third, only giving up a double to Chris Frank. The Tigers then added two insurance runs in the bottom of the inning, benefiting from one of three balks that would be called on the Redbirds on the night.
The Tigers left the bases loaded three times in the first five innings. But, they would continue to pound away until the sixth inning, when they broke open a close 7-5 game.
Shortstop Gary Arndt, who went 3-for-5 on the night with 3 runs scored, singled to lead off the inning. Evan Frey bunted his way on with a single, advancing Arndt to second. After Helms sacrificed the runners over, Zane Taylor grounded a single up the middle to drive in both runners.
Collin Korab came in on relief and promptly hit Priday with his first pitch. One batter later, McKee stepped to the plate with a chance to break the game wide open. McKee quickly ran the count to 1-2, and it appeared that Missouri would leave the bases loaded for a fourth time.
But McKee refused to go down. He fouled off several pitches, driving two of them deep into the stands outside the foul pole. Despite fouling off six straight pitches from Korab, McKee still remained down 1-2 in the count.
Finally, on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, McKee drove a three-run homer over the right field fence nearly 370 feet away, plating both Arndt and Frey.
"I thought McKee's home run was the back-breaker," Jamieson said. "You could feel the wind taken out of their sails."
Although McKee's hitting had suffered in recent games (he was batting .167 going into the ISU match-up) he knew he'd come around. "Every hit can increase my confidence right now, so I'll take anything I can get," he said.
McKee's shot came with two outs, just as did many of the Tigers' scoring. In the second and third innings as well, the Tigers did all their scoring with two outs.
"It's real big when you can get two-out hits," Priday said. "You want to get as much done as you can without two outs, but when you get two out and get big hits and score runs, it's always an added bonus."
Mense followed McKee's homer with a double of his own and was driven home on a single by Cales to rip open the game and set the score at 13-5.
The Tigers romped from then on, as pitcher Travis Wendte sent the ISU batters down in order in the top of the seventh, throwing only eight pitches in the inning, each batter flying out to center field.
In the seventh, first baseman Derek Chambers doubled home two more runs for the Tigers, scoring Brock Bond and Zane Taylor. Mizzou would add one more run in the bottom of the eighth, to cap all scoring for the game.
Jameison said it wasn't just the Missouri bats that performed well. The bullpen also executed its job fairly well. Freshman Rick Zagone, who relieved in the fifth inning, collected his first career win. The combination of Wendte in the seventh, left-hander Brant Combs in the eighth and junior Brett Reynolds in the ninth would combine to allow only one hit through three full innings of work.
The game was a welcome win for the struggling Tigers, said Taylor, who went 3-for-4 and scored two runs. "If we can find some consistency and get everybody going at the same time from here on out, then we're going to be a tough team to beat."
The Tigers have a seven-game home stand remaining, beginning with a weekend series with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Games against St. Louis and Purdue will follow.